Why Does Frat Hazing Still Happen? Because Alums Want It To.
Even as a few fraternity-affiliated adults condemn hazing in public, in private they tell students to do it
Hazing, as practiced in most places, is wrong. It is unethical, it is dangerous, and it is a crime in 44 states and Washington, DC. Yet 73 percent of Greeks are hazed, according to the most recent large-scale hazing study, which, granted, was published in 2008. Binghamton University was so plagued by hazing complaints in 2012, including allegations that fraternity brothers were waterboarding pledges, that the school’s former assistant director of Greek life told the New York Times, “My entire tenure from start to finish, I was scared to death that someone was going to die.” Sure enough, in 2017, freshman pledge Conor Donnelly fell to his death while trying to climb a balcony at an Alpha Sigma Phi party. (Investigators ruled that while hazing was not involved, alcohol was a factor in his death.)
Between 2010 and 2017, at least 17 pledges died from hazing by university-recognized fraternities and at least two more in underground or local fraternities, according to hazing expert Hank Nuwer’s extensive research. The most frequently reported hazing behaviors among college students involve alcohol consumption, humiliation, isolation, sleep deprivation, and sex acts, a recent Association for the Study of Higher Education report revealed. Jake, a pledge whose story I closely followed for a year, experienced many of these.
College hazing began in the early 1800s as a way for sophomores to needle freshmen. Fraternity hazing increased in the late 1860s with the return of students who learned hazing practices when they fought in the Civil War. Post–World War II, hazing grew more extreme and dangerous, and more likely to involve alcohol.
Twenty-first-century fraternity hazing is “even more brutal than before,” said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who runs InsideHazing.com. The media shows us only what Lipkins called “the tip of the iceberg” of fraternity hazing traditions—the more sensational incidents: Wilmington College Gamma Phi Betas either watched or participated as members blindfolded pledges, told them to strip, stuffed their mouths with Limburger cheese, and whipped them so…